Visiting a house in France - Photo: Production Perig

Reader’s question: When we arranged a visit to a property, the estate agent asked us to sign a bon de visite. What is this document and how legally binding is it?

The bon de visite is a document that the estate agent asks the potential buyer to sign before visiting the properties on the market, specifying the details of the buyer, the house or apartment in question, and the date of the visit.

The purpose of the formality is to provide an assurance to the estate agent that they will be acting as intermediaries in the case of a purchase of the property shown. In principle the agreement prevents the buyer from visiting the property and subsequently negotiating directly with the seller to avoid paying the estate agent’s commission.

There is no arguing with the fact that a professional that invests time and resources in meeting the needs of the client is entitled to receive due compensation for their legwork, but the function of the bon de visite is a frequent source of confusion. The general perception it that the document is meant to engage the buyer. In fact, if the sale of the property is finalized directly between vendor and buyer and the agent decides to pursue compensation in court, the action is not taken against the buyer but against the vendor of the property. In fact, as explained on the French Droit-Finances website, the bon de visite has no value unless the seller has signed an exclusive mandate with the agent. The document isn’t enforceable by itself, it only serves as one form of proof that the estate agent has been actively showing the property, together with any phone calls, emails, and other information. It is common practice for a seller to sign a simple mandate with several agents concurrently. It could therefore happen that two agents show the same property to the same buyer. In this case the agent that earns the commission is the one that transacted the sale, regardless of which of the agents showed the property first.

The actual weight of the claim in court is questionable. Not only the estate agent would have to produce evidence of an exclusivity agreement with the seller, and that the property was shown to the particular buyer, but the court would also need to conclude that the estate agent played a crucial role in the sale and that it would not have happened without their intervention. In the case, however, that the estate agent successfully makes the case that the buyer and seller have knowingly circumvented the mandate in order to save the cost of the commission, the exercise could end up costing the seller a fair sum.

The benefit to the vendor is also relative. Bypassing the agent, the buyer will expect a price reduction, so in fact the net amount will be fairly close to the asking price minus the agent’s commission. If you then add the cost and aggravation of the potential lawsuit you would wonder why take the risk at all.


The information in this article is provided for informational purposes and does not constitute legal, professional or financial advice. We encourage you to seek the advice of a relevant professional before acting on any of this information. Any links to other sites are provided as sources and assistance, and are not intended as an endorsement.

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